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Rhode Island political news: February 2023

Rhode Island Democratic Gov. Dan McKee delivers his State of the State address to lawmakers and guests in the House Chamber at the Statehouse, Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2022, in Providence, R.I.Stew Milne/Associated Press

Feb. 10, 2023

Magaziner named to House Homeland Security subcommittee

US Representative Seth Magaziner, a Rhode Island Democrat, announced Friday that he has been chosen as the ranking member of the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Counterterrorism, Law Enforcement, and Intelligence.

The Intelligence and Counterterrorism Subcommittee is responsible for overseeing the Department of Homeland Security’s intelligence, counterterrorism, and information sharing efforts. The subcommittee’s priorities include violent extremism and homegrown terrorism, foreign and domestic terrorist organizations, and counterintelligence.

“I look forward to working with my colleagues to crack down on domestic extremism, international terrorism, and all other manner of threats,” Magaziner said. “The fight to preserve our democracy is one of the most sacred obligations of our generation. By helping to lead the Intelligence and Counterterrorism Subcommittee, I aim to confront the dangerous forces that seek to further divide our country, jeopardize our safety, and undermine the democratic principles that make us the best country in the world.”

Representative Bennie Thompson, ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee, welcomed Magaziner, saying, “I know his work will be essential to our ongoing mission to protect the homeland from the diverse threats we face. I am excited to welcome him to this important new role on behalf of the American people.”

Feb. 10, 2023

R.I. Senate commission to study non-plurality voting, runoffs

A new state Senate commission will study the possibilities of non-plurality voting and runoff elections for primaries for the General Assembly members and the state’s five general officers.

Senator Samuel D. Zurier, a Providence Democrat, sponsored the resolution creating the commission after seeing the significance of this issue in his own election in 2021. He won a five-way primary with 31.2 percent of the vote, meaning that more than two-thirds of the voters preferred a different candidate. Also, Governor Daniel J. McKee won September’s Democratic gubernatorial primary with 32.8 percent of the vote.

“The concept of majority rule is at the core of our democratic institutions,” Zurier said. “I saw first-hand how our current plurality voting system does not always instill as much voter confidence in the outcome of elections as we might desire.”

Representative Rebecca Kislak, a Providence Democrat, introduced a bill last year that would have created an instant runoff form of ranked-choice voting limited to General Assembly primaries with three or more candidates.

Zurier said he sees the commission as the start of a conversation in which Rhode Islanders can learn more about other methods of selecting winners in elections — such as runoff elections, approval elections, ranked-choice voting, and hybrid combinations of these systems.

“Other cities and states have adopted a variety of ways to conduct elections that come closer to the goal of majority rule,” he said. “The study commission will review these alternatives to see whether voters felt more satisfied with the results, how clearly they understood the process, how the transition went, and what sort of changes resulted during campaigns.”

The Senate approved the resolution on Jan. 31, creating a seven-member commission that includes Zurier along with Senators Leonidas P. Raptakis, Senator Anthony P. DeLuca II, Secretary of State Gregg M. Amore or a designee, Cranston Registrar/Director of Elections Nick Lima, and Coventry Board of Canvassers Clerk Lori Anderson. An additional member from the state Board of Elections will be appointed. The commission must report its findings to the Senate by Oct. 31.

Feb. 6, 2023

Magaziner invites Kwity Paye to State of the Union

US Representative Seth Magaziner, a Rhode Island Democrat, has invited Indianapolis Colts defensive end Kwity Paye, a graduate of Bishop Hendricken High School, to the State of the Union address on Tuesday.

Paye was born in Guinea, a refugee of the first Liberian Civil War. His family immigrated to Providence when he was an infant. Paye played football at Hendricken, and had a standout career as a defensive lineman at the University of Michigan. In 2021, he was selected by the Indianapolis Colts in the first round of the NFL draft, the first Rhode Islander selected in the first round since 1939.

“I ran for Congress to ensure that everyone has a chance to achieve the American Dream. In so many ways, Kwity Paye’s journey from a refugee camp in Guinea, to Section 8 housing in Rhode Island, and now to the highest echelons of the NFL is emblematic of the American Dream that I’m fighting for in Washington D.C.,” Magaziner said. “Kwity Paye represents the best of our state – and our country. I’m honored that he has decided to join me tomorrow tonight, so that more Americans can become familiar with his inspirational story and reaffirm our nation’s commitment to opportunity for all.”

Feb. 6, 2023

Whitehouse invites Gulf War veteran to State of the Union

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, a Rhode Island Democrat, has invited Vance Scullin, a US Army and Rhode Island National Guard veteran who served in Iraq during the Gulf War, to the State of the Union address on Tuesday.

Scullin, of Woonsocket, is newly eligible for service-related benefits thanks to the Honoring Our PACT (Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics) Act, which President Biden signed into law in August. The act expands Veterans Administration health care and benefits for veterans exposed to burn pits, Agent Orange, and other toxic substances.

Scullin served on active duty with the US Army from 1982 to 1985 in the infantry. Upon returning to Rhode Island in 1986, he joined the Rhode Island National Guard and served with the 119th Military Police, which has since been consolidated into the 169th Military Police Company that operates out of the Warwick Armory.

In 1991, Scullin deployed to Iraq in support of Operation Desert Storm. He left the Rhode Island National Guard in 1994 with the rank of sergeant. He has pending claims related to environmental exposures during the Gulf War that were recently made presumptive by the passage of the Honoring Our PACT Act.

“It is a privilege to be joined by Mr. Scullin for President Biden’s State of the Union address,” Whitehouse said. “Our state and our country are deeply grateful for Mr. Scullin’s service. The PACT Act was a significant step forward in honoring America’s sacred commitment to ensure veterans like Mr. Scullin – who have given so much to the nation – are treated with the dignity they have earned many times over.”

Feb. 6, 2023

Morales introduces bill to replace lead pipes

Representative David Morales, a Providence Democrat, has introduced legislation that would invest federal infrastructure funds to replace public and private drinking water pipes at no cost to property owners or tenants.

“Unfortunately, our state has over 35,000 lead service lines, of which 26,000 are located in Providence County and disproportionally hurt working families, communities of color, and renters,” Morales said in a statement. “As noted in countless studies and through the lived experience of people in our community, we know that drinking water contaminated with lead is incredibly dangerous and poses a health hazard for everyone, especially youth.”

Lead poisoning can contribute to high blood pressure, reproductive issues, and cognitive damage, and it affects hundreds of Rhode Island children each year, posing serious and long-term health impacts, he said.

“We have the research, we have the financial resources, we have the labor, and we have the political support to ensure that all people across our state are guaranteed clean drinking water regardless of ZIP code or socioeconomic status,” Morales said.

The bill would tap funds from the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and other federal sources to fund public and private lead service line replacements. The statewide effort would be coordinated by the Rhode Island Infrastructure Bank, which would work with local water suppliers to develop comprehensive replacement plans.

Once awarded funding, water suppliers would be required to prioritize replacement of lines that service disadvantaged customers, ZIP codes with the highest concentration of lead presence, and those who are most sensitive to the effects of lead. For residential properties with an identified lead service line, water suppliers would communicate these findings and replace the private lead service line at no cost to the property owner or tenant.

Senate President Dominick J. Ruggerio recently introduced legislation to replace lead pipes in the state’s water supply system. The Senate passed a lead pipe replacement bill last year that was sponsored by former Senate Majority Leader Michael J. McCaffrey, but it went nowhere in the House. This year, Representative William W. O’Brien, North Providence Democrat, has introduced a House version of Ruggerio’s bill, and now Morales has introduced his legislation.

Feb. 5, 2023

Reed invites Coalition Against Domestic Violence director to State of Union

US Senator Jack Reed has invited Lucy Rios, executive director of the Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence, to be his guest at the 2023 State of the Union address on Tuesday.

A resident of Central Falls, Rios was named executive director of the Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence in September 2022 after serving in the role in an interim capacity. She has dedicated two decades to supporting survivors of domestic violence and their families in Rhode Island.

Rios also is a founding board member of the Segue Institute for Learning Charter School. She serves on the Racial and Environmental Justice Committee of the City of Providence, and is a founding member of SISTA FIRE, an organization that seeks to build the collective power of women of color in Rhode Island for social, economic, and political transformation.

“Lucy is a tireless champion for preventing and responding to domestic violence, sexual assault, and other forms of abuse,” Reed said in a statement. “Her dedicated leadership at RICADV has made a positive difference in our community, and her advocacy helped us reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, which is near and dear to President Biden’s heart.”

Biden helped to write and pass the Violence Against Women Act when he served in the Senate. Reed said the law remains an essential program that allows organizations like the Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence to assist victims of domestic and sexual violence and hold perpetrators accountable.

“I am honored and humbled at the invitation to attend the State of the Union address with Senator Reed, who has been a strong supporter of the anti-domestic violence movement,” Rios said. “Solidarity from lawmakers to community members in the vision of eliminating violence in our state and nationally will help us realize a future where people feel safe in their communities and at home.”

Feb. 5, 2023

Cicilline invites Building Futures founder to State of the Union

US Representative David N. Cicilline has invited Andrew Cortés, founder and executive director of Building Futures, to be his guest at the 2023 State of the Union address on Tuesday.

Building Futures, a Providence-based pre-apprenticeship training program that prepares Rhode Islanders for careers in the construction industry, launched in 2007 when Cicilline was mayor of Providence.

“I was proud to stand with Andrew back in 2007 as he launched Building Futures and partnered with the city of Providence on this great program,” Cicilline said. “It has been incredible to see how this organization has grown over the years, and I am thrilled that program participants will benefit from recent infrastructure investments Democrats are making through the landmark infrastructure bill and Inflation Reduction Act.”

Cicilline, a Rhode Island Democrat, said the program has made a difference in the lives of 380 Rhode Islanders by placing them in registered apprenticeships as bricklayers, carpenters, electricians, plumbers, and other union construction trade apprenticeships. He said Building Futures has created apprenticeship programs for more than 40 new high growth occupations, which have now employed over 1,800 Rhode Islanders in healthcare, manufacturing, and early childhood education.

“It is an immense honor to attend the State of the Union address as the guest of Congressman Cicilline,” Cortes said. “We place people into family sustaining careers with benefits utilizing the Registered Apprenticeship model to address the workforce needs of employers and infrastructure challenges. It is an impactful model, and with new federal investments in clean energy and infrastructure we can continue to help hundreds of Rhode Islanders gain economic stability and sufficiency.”

Feb. 5, 2023

Talan, Ireland elected Providence GOP co-chairs

The Providence Republican City Committee on Sunday announced that David Talan and Christopher Ireland have been elected co-chairs.

Talan, a retired engineer and computer analyst, is a community activist who is president of the Reservoir Triangle Neighborhood Association, a long-time coach in the Elmwood Little League, and a leader of several Jewish organizations and education groups. He is a former Providence mayoral candidate.

Ireland, a small business owner, is a wrestling promoter and a board member of the Hope Rifle & Pistol Club. In 2022, he ran for the state House District 7 seat held by Representative David Morales, a Providence Democrat.

Talan and Ireland pledged to be watchdogs over the city government and elected officials.

“We will be offering constructive suggestions, to improve education for our children, promote good public safety and quality of life, provide effective city services, and open and honest city and state government,” they said in a statement. “We will reach out to citizens in all 25 neighborhoods of the city. And we will recruit candidates to run for all available elective offices in 2024.”

Other officers elected by the Providence GOP are vice chair of operations Russell Hryzan, co-vice chairs of fundraising William Ricci Jr. and Niyoka Powell, treasurer Ronald Iacobbo, assistant treasurer Stacey Capizzano, secretary Seangsouk “Eve” Keobouthanh, and assistant secretary Emmanuel Nyema.

Feb. 3, 2023

Ackerman re-elected R.I. House deputy majority whip

Representative Mia Ackerman, a Cumberland Democrat, has been re-elected deputy majority whip for the Rhode Island House of Representatives.

“I’m so pleased my colleagues are happy with the work I’ve been doing and have chosen to re-elect me to this important leadership position,” Ackerman said. “We have accomplished so much together over the past two years and have so much more work to do. I’m eager to continue our efforts to improve the lives of Rhode Islanders.”

Ackerman will work as part of the Democratic leadership team headed by House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi, of Warwick, and Majority Leader Christopher R. Blazejewski, of Providence.

She became the first woman to hold the role of deputy whip in 2021 and was first elected as a state representative in November 2012. She has been a strong advocate on consumer and health care issues, advocating for laws to combat cancer and protect consumers’ rights.

Before serving at the State House, Representative Ackerman served as a member of the Cumberland Town Council from 2006 to 2012. She holds a bachelor’s degree in political economics from the State University of New York at Binghamton. She is a self-employed real estate title examiner.

Feb. 1, 2023

Providence Democrat introduces bill to allow terminally ill to end their lives

State Representative Edith H. Ajello introduced a bill Wednesday that aims to allow terminally ill Rhode Islanders to end their lives.

The Lila Manfield Sapinsley Compassionate Care Act would grant a terminally ill patient the right to choose to hasten their own death under certain conditions.

“Terminally ill patients should not be forced to remain in agony without hope of reprieve if they wish otherwise. We should trust patients to know when they have suffered enough, and respect their wishes.”

Ajello, a Providence Democrat, said the bill “is carefully written to provide many layers of protection.”

Introduced since 2015, the bill would establish a process through which a terminally ill patient may request a prescription from their doctor to be self administered to hasten their death. The patient would make two documented requests, at least 15 days apart, including a written request signed by two witnesses. The bill specifies that the patient must be informed that they can rescind their request at any time.

The bill proposes that no doctor, nurse or other person could be penalized civilly or criminally for providing the prescription.

Ten states including Maine and Vermont, and the District of Columbia, have similar laws.

Feb. 1, 2023

R.I. Senate GOP calls for cutting sales tax

Rhode Island Senate Republicans on Wednesday called for cutting the state’s 7 percent sales tax to 5 percent.

In his budget proposal, Democratic Governor Daniel J. McKee had called for trimming the sales tax rate to 6.85 percent and lowering it more in the years ahead “if we continue to have discipline in our budgets.”

In her response to McKee’s State of the State Address, Senate Minority Leader Jessica de la Cruz, a North Smithfield Republican, called for bolder action, and now Republicans have submitted legislation to bring the sales tax rate to 5 percent.

She said budget officials estimate the governor’s proposal would save each Rhode Island household about $77 per year, based on purchasing $51,500 in taxable items, but under the Senate Republican proposal, that household would save $1,030.

“What could your family do with an extra $1,000 in retained income?” de la Cruz asked. “That is the question every Rhode Islander should consider.”

Senate Minority Whip Gordon E. Rogers, a Foster Republican, said Rhode Island families need relief.

“And $77 a year just doesn’t provide that,” he said. “While any tax cut is welcome, the governor’s proposal is just not enough. It does not make Rhode Island more competitive with surrounding states that all have lower tax rates and certainly will not help Rhode Island businesses to draw in more sales.”

Edward Fitzpatrick can be reached at edward.fitzpatrick@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @FitzProv.